Horror Review: The Walking Dead Season Two


739932_722955184385317_1243052435_o

The Walking Dead by Telltale Games scarcely needs any introduction. Widely agreed to be one of the best games of 2012, its narrative dictated by your choices punched at the player’s gut with its strong emotional content in a subtle sidestory of atonement, fatherhood, and of course, survival, in the zombie universe of The Walking Dead.

Clem does keep that hair short, whether you like it or not.

Clem does keep that hair short, whether you like it or not.

However, the gameplay and its difficult choices were an illusion. A magic trick. As long as you looked at the story you didn’t notice how much you didn’t make a dent at the course of the storytelling. Two playthroughs will prove that the story is almost exactly the same, even if you interpreted protagonist Lee Everett two polar opposite characters. Not that it mattered, since it was made to play once; to become emotionally involved and keep your little saved game until next time, for the next season, much like the TV Series.

And so it came to pass that Season Two came out. Through the emotional roller coaster we go again, load your season one save for vaguely rewarding shoutouts to your playthrough of season one. This time the story is set two years after the its predecessor. You play as Clementine, Lee’s (now) eleven year old protegé. Having survived through the hell zombie apocalypses tend to dish out, young Clem is not the the little girl up in the treehouse anymore, having become sullen and untrusting, used to the bedouin life of scavenging and killing after society breaks.

The story does progress ostensibly slow at first. Episodes One and Two may appear as uninspired reflections of the original game and may be hard to tolerate for some, but it’s worth it. Seeing the full game, they are justified. The magic trick was being set up again, with more flair this time. As you start interpreting this little girl’s choices and behavior, you start to become emotionally involved again. Her persona becomes an extension of your own (Verily, in a way, you become an eleven-year old, which is super fucking weird). By episode three it’s all set, and you’re looking at the magic hand again, while the other supposedly weaves a defined scenario.

Reminder: Eleven years old.

Reminder: Eleven years old.

This time is different though. If in the first game you (Lee) took the role of leadership, in Season Two, you (Clem) are the pivot character. People want to do what’s safer for the child, she is the motive of concern of every survivor group, and being forced to take sides ultimately creates different paths that don’t end the same way, in contrast to Season One. The multiple endings pay off. Enthralled by this story, you’re encouraged to follow through it as if you were a wildly different person, with feelings and thoughts. You feel the weight of being Clementine.

From the beggining of episode three to the end of five, the last one, Clem is swept in a crescendo of intrigue. The group is trying not to break and she is often encouraged to voice her opinions, except when she disagrees with someone, in which case it doesn’t matter because adults know better. But that may also mean that she’s agreeing with another person, and her opinion is defended as the most important because the weakest needs to feel safe. You can’t seem to fix this group, driving it further into discord in fact. You may take one side entirely or try to keep things nice and easy for everyone, and in the end you are responsible for Clem’s fate. For better or for worse. The subject “Clem” and the subject “you” are sort of interchangeable in this paragraph.

The new season is more emotionally complex and more morally ambiguous. Really, it’s about the evil that men do rather than zombies. Though not an entirely original concept, Season Two does create a very nice example of it. It’s difficult to say if it’s better or worse than the first one. It’s just different. However, it shows improvement in its immersion and narrative, and proves that Telltale is capable of carrying on the quality of their own version of The Walking Dead.

Review: The Wolf Among Us


The-Wolf-Among-UsThe Wolf Among Us was the first game released by Telltale after the extraordinary success of The Walking Dead. They had finally found their element, and decided (prudently) to stick with it. But how do you follow up a title based on a comic book series recognized by some as the best game of its year?

It’s simple. Make another title based on a comic.

Fables, the series Telltale’s following project was based upon, is about fairy tale characters we grew up reading about secretly living in our real world, in a real city, hiding their existence by creating their own society. None of that Once Upon A Time cutsey niceness. They are opressed and opressors, have severe flaws in their characters, vices and, in some cases, signs of antisocial personality disorder. That is to say, they’re often psychopaths.

I'll reconcile the shit out of you!

I’ll reconcile the shit out of you!

The game gives you control of Bigby Wolf, sheriff of the fables. As you might have guessed, previously known as the Big Bad Wolf of Little Red Riding Hood and Three Little Pigs fame. Reformed and willing to put his past behind him, Bigby tries to reconcile the poor and rebelious with the powerful and bureaucratic, in a very socially imbalanced society of mythical people.

Bigby is the most human of all characters, ironically. Given the task of upholding the law in this broken, small society where everyone knows everyone else, he lives a lonely life, being recognized and feared for doing his job, which frustrates him. His tendency to bend the rules makes the fables’ mayor office see him as a loose cannon. Bigby is a noir hero, chain smoking and full clad in trenchcoat. Bitter with having to raise his hand against unsatisfied citizens and with the impunity of guileful villains; forced against rebellion, but resentful towards the bureaucrats, he often passes his own kind of law. His humanity is revealed through conversations with the only people close to him. Colin, one of the three pigs he used to terrorize, and Snow White, secretary of the mayor office and object of his affections.

the-wolf-among-us-004The amount of deviance from the path of justice in the game vary depending on your playing style. As you solve a series of murders during the span of the game, you decide how violent Bigby will be towards everyone, from the mostly innocent to the very guilty. However, this is not a story about choices like The Walking Dead, but about people leading double lifes. By taking fables, one of our most powerful cultural symbols of purity and innocence, and twisting and corrupting them, The Wolf Among Us is a modern and allegorical story with heavy noir influences, with fantasy and magic playing a part in the narrative.

It is not without flaws, however. It should be noted that, as the game needs a central story, the mystery of the series of murders obfuscate this amazing world, and one purely interested in the big picture; the unjust society of the fantastical, would be better served by reading the Fables comics. The Wolf Among Us has lots of ups far too early in the game and a few too many downs too late into it. It serves as a decent mystery thriller, and more importantly as an origin story for the comic book series, and it does have absolutely thrilling moments. However, it doesn’t bring much new to the table of longtime Fables fans other than focusing on one of the most interesting characters of its mythos.

the-wolf-among-us-episode-3-review-a-crooked-mile-1109968

As a standalone story, The Wolf Among Us has amazing action sequences and is a very exciting story up until the last quarter where it disappoints. As part of the Fables series, and possibly first chapter of others to come, it’s a perfect entry point and highly recommended. The complexity of its premise and excellence of some of its moments more than compensates for the lackluster closure of this first chapter. If that’s not enough to convince you, play it for Bigby Wolf, who might just be the coolest detective in videogame history.

Trailer: The Walking Dead: 400 Days


TheWalkingDeadGameEp1

One of the most critically-acclaimed video game titles of 2012 returns sometime in late 2013 with a new season of episodic content. The Walking Dead by Telltale Games announced at E3 earlier today that new DLC content will be arriving sometime later this year.

This new season will be called The Walking Dead: 400 Days and it looks to take adventure point-and-click success story of 2012 further into Robert Kirkman’s zombie apocalypse world. There’s no word on whether a certain Clementine will make an appearance in this new season, but the producers from tElltale Games have made it known that they plan to try and get the video game more in line with the tv series on AMC and maybe even get the acting talent from the show in showing up on the game.

The Walking Dead: 400 Days is set to be released in late 2013 for the Xbox 36, PS3, PS Vita, Microsoft Windows, Mac OS X and iOS.

First Impression: Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead: Episode 2 “Starved For Help”


Telltale Games released the first episode in their adventure game The Walking Dead months ago. Due to some of their past titles not panning out despite hype from the studio this time around it seems like Telltale may have finally found their groove with this game set in the zombie apocalypse world created by critically-acclaimed comic book author Robert Kirkman. With the first episode, A New Day, the company was able to capture the chaos and danger of the early days that was only hinted at in the comic book and in the AMC tv series.

That first episode introduced gamers to the two main characters that would be the focus of this horror-adventure title. Lee Everett and Clementine were characters rare in licensed video games in that they’re original to the title and also one of the better written and realized fictional characters in gaming. The first episode did a great job in setting up these two characters and the world that some thought the problems that has plagued Telltale Games with their episodic titles would pop up once more: great beginnings that would fizzle out with each new episode.

I’m happy to say that episode 2, Starved For Help, doesn’t fall in Telltale Games’ past pattern. In fact, this latest episode in the game actually builds on the strength of the first episode and improves upon what made it fun and very good while minimizing some of the flaws with that initial episode. We find Lee, Clementine and the survivors of the first episode (how a player made their decisions on who lives or dies in the first episode will determine the roster for episode 2) still at the motel complex from the first episode. They’ve been largely kept safe at their makeshift haven but the prospect of dwindling supplies has forced Lee and the group to venture out into the surrounding forest to forage for food. It’s during one such foraging mission that the group comes across another group that would kick-off the story for Starved For Help.

Telltale Games doesn’t try to recap too much of the first episode in this follow-up, but does let the dialogue between Lee and others remind gamers about their decisions in the first episode and how it has affected the situation Lee and his group has itself in. The addition of some new members to the group doesn’t feel forced but actually feel quite welcome as it helps keep the growing rift between two factions in the group from becoming too static. In fact, this episode actually makes some of the decisions made by characters we initially found to be on our side to be counter-productive and dangerous while those who came off as too rigid and confrontational end up being more sympathetic.

It’s during these dialogue sequences where players once again have a timed-limit to make their dialogue choices and decisions that The Waling Deadcontinue to impress. Once again players must make their dialogue-choices from four choices that doesn’t really come off as evil, good, indifferent, etc. It’s up to the player to determine just exactly which dialogue answer best fit the sort of game they’re playing. I’ve played through both episodes trying out myriad of choices available to me and with each and every different choices the game plays out much differently, but still continues to straddle the grey area. There’s no good or bad decision and it’s what makes this game’s dialogue-mechanic so much better than most games that use something similar.

The action part of the episode has some tweaks to QTE (quick time event) combat mechanic that makes targeting a tad better than what was available in the first episode, but this part of the game still remains the weakest link in what has so far been a stellar game. After just two episode I wouldn’t be surprised if most fans of the title just wish for the QTE’s to go away and let actions in future episode be determined by dialogue choices. It would definitely help keep the gamer’s from being pulled out of the narrative immersion they find themselves in.

Starved For Help is a great example of how a studio can learn from it’s past mistakes and improve on the template they’ve decided on from the beginning. Even the story that unfolds in episode 2 is a huge improvement from the first episode that was very good to begin with. We see Telltale Games handle the themes of survival vs living, moral grey areas in an apocalyptic world and survival at the cost of others with deft hands that best exemplifies what has been great about the comic book series. There’s been times when the narrative in the game actually comes off as more subtle and less exposition-heay than Kirkman’s own writing which for some is an improvement in itself.

With two episode now released it’s going to be interesting if Telltale Games can continue their new found groove of keeping things consistently good to great which their past games didn’t seem to have. Now three episodes remain and from the ending of episode 2 the group has found a new reprieve from their dire problem of low supplies, but at a cost that may come back to haunt Lee, Clementine and others.

Episode 1: A New Day

First Impression: Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead: Episode 1 “A New Day”


When I first heard that Robert Kirkman’s horror comic book series, The Walking Dead, was being turned into a video game I was a bit leery. I’m a huge fan of the comics and, despite some unevenness in it’s storytelling, also a fan of the tv adaptation on AMC. I’ve even bought and read the novel based on the comic book that details the early backstory of one of the series’ iconic characters. So, when it was announced that Telltale Games was going to make a game out of the series I was intrigued, but also worried.

Was the property being milked for everything it was worth to the point that it was reaching oversaturation?

As the months ticked by I read up on updates and news on Telltale Games and its plan for the series. It was going to be based on the comic book and not the tv show. While it won’t follow the characters from the comic book the game will still use some of those characters in cameos that the game’s new lead characters will intersect with. I was all for this but I was still hesitant to fully buy into the game until I actually played the first episode in what was going to be an episodic game totaling 5 distinct episodes.

Episode 1, titled “A New Day”, has been released and over the course of a couple hours in one night I’ve played through the episode and my first impression of Telltale Games’ The Walking Deadis a very positive one.

The game actually begins with the lead character of Lee Everett in the back of a police car being driven to a prison outside of Atlanta. We find out early on that Lee has been convicted of murder, but through conversations with the police officer in the car we get hints that he may not be the bad man his conviction labels him as. The game uses these early minutes of the game to give players a simple instructional on how the controls work and the manner in which players can choose how Lee should answer the person he’s speaking to.

Before one could get comfortable with the game’s control mechanics the story crashes headlong into the horror aspect of the game.

The game doesn’t skimp on the horror and tension the player will experience and this episode does a fine way of making the simplistic controls become part of making encounters with the living dead be very tense and terrifying. Most video games tend to make their controls very precise and accurate, but here the controls are just imprecise enough and timed to make zombie encounters not so simple. Even the action tend to serve the narrative instead of breaking away from it. This is not a game that caters to the action junkies, but more to those who value story, characters and emotion first and foremost.

“A New Day” also introduces the second lead that would become part of Lee’s main story: 8-year-old Clementine.

If there’s been a big criticism of the show based on the comic books it’s that the kids on the show have either been clueless, useless, or dangerous. Clementine from my first impressions based on this first episode seem to be the opposite of tv show Sophia and Carl. She’s resourceful, tougher than she looks but still retains enough of her innocence even after seeing the early days of the zombie apocalypse hit her close to home. The interactions between Lee and Clementine is turning out to be this game’s core and how players treat Clementine looks to affect how future episodes turn out.

That’s where the game truly stands out for me even with just this first episode being the only one released, so far. The story and how Lee interacts with his young charge and other survivors he meets up determines how the episode plays out. Play like a compassionate Lee and people will trust Lee and help him out. Play like a silent, enigmatic tough guy and some characters will accept him while others will be suspicious. A great aspect of this game’s narrative is that throughout this first episode (I’m guessing in the other future episodes as well) the player is put in a situation where he has to make Lee decide which two people he has to save from the zombies. The fact that every character doesn’t come off as one-dimensional that making these life or death decisions truly becomes tough.

Telltale Games has done a great job with this episode to lay down the oft-used theme of human drama and conflict in the face of the apocalypse. While it’s nothing new in zombie literature when it comes to the theme of human survivors being as much a dangers to other humans as the zombies with this episode we’re not hit over the head with it. We get some tense interactions between Lee and particular survivors, but nothing that boils over into outright violence. There’s enough distrust introduced with this first episode that we get a sense of danger from within not just from the outside.

I played the game on my Xbox 360 and the graphics is not super-high quality. What the developers do end up doing is giving the game a nice comic book art-like aesthetic which further puts it in line with the comic book series and not the tv show. For a price of $4.99 (400 MS Points) The Walking Dead: Episode 1is worth the price even if a player can easily breeze through it in just a couple hours. It’s how choices (both dialogue and action) made in the game changes the storyline that gives this first episode long-term re-playability. I’ve already done two playthroughs and with each one I’ve made different choices which clearly changed how certain characters acted towards me and how certain scenes unfolded.

So far, Telltale Games has done a great job with The Walking Deadand if this first episode was any indication then players will definitely be waiting for the future episodes with anticipation.

Trailer: Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead (Debut)


This week saw the release of a particular type of video game. The game is Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead. Yes, you heard correctly. It’s a video game based on the horror comic book series by Robert Kirkman that has become one of TV’s biggest sensation (despite some issues with characters and storytelling) with it’s own tv series.

Telltale Games’ adaptation brings a new angle to the story Kirkman has been writing for almost ten years now. It’s unfolds from the very first days of the zombie apocalypse but still set in the Atlanta-area. Themain characters in the game is one Lee Everett who comes across a young girl during his search for a safe spot. Together the two of them must survive the chaos of the zombie apocalypse’s early days and not just from the zombies, but other survivors they come across in their journey. While the game introduces new characters the people at Telltale Games will have the main characters come across some of the characters from the comic book/tv series.

As mentioned earlier the game will come out as five episodes that players buy the moment Telltale Games releases a new one. The game pretty much acts like an interactive episode with the player making difficult decisions both practical and moral that changes the tone of each player’s particular game. Unlike most zombie games which tend to focus more on action and shooting this title will focus heavily on story and characters.

Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead has now comes out with it’s first episode for the Xbox 360, PS3 and Windows PC with versions for Mac OS X and iOS coming sometime this summer.